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Youth Relayer goes the distance

Niki Gellner's Relay For Life team
Juggling all aspects of a busy commerce degree can be challenging enough as it is – but university students are also expected to spend their time working and volunteering to gain experience for when they enter the workforce. Between studying, going to classes, maintaining a social life, and occasionally getting a good night’s sleep, it’s hard to believe there is any time left for professional development and giving back to the community.

And yet, fifth-year finance student Niki Gellner spends much of her limited free time leading the volunteer-run planning committee for the on-campus Relay For Life. Despite the time commitment and hectic schedule, she’ll be the first to say she gains back as much as she gives. 

“The best part is that I’m supporting every single person living with cancer,” says Niki of her work with the Society. “I know exactly where the money from Relay is going – to research, but also to programs and services for people who have cancer. I’ve realized how important that practical support is. Now if I find out someone has cancer, I really just want to be there for them and help them find the resources that will make their situation better.”

Niki knows the effects of cancer’s widespread reach all too well – when she was a little girl, her cousin passed away at a young age of a brain tumour. Since then, both Niki’s grandmas have passed away of cancer and just last year her mom’s best friend succumbed to a lengthy battle with breast cancer.

Relay has provided Niki with a place to give back for all those people she has lost to cancer, and to support anyone going through cancer right now. It’s also a place for students from all years and faculties to come together with community members and cancer survivors, share stories of their own cancer journeys and celebrate life while raising money for a cause that hits close to home for all of them.

Gaining real-world skills

There are many benefits to volunteering for Relay For Life, but even more so for university students. On top of feeling good about giving back to a worthwhile cause, volunteers are able to gain real-world experience and build valuable skills to take forward in their professional and personal lives.

“Committee volunteers are getting out of their comfort zones and realizing how important it is to professionally communicate with people,” says Niki. “I love to hear that – I want them to bring this stuff forward with them to apply to other things they get involved with.”

Plus, they get to meet and mingle with like-minded, outgoing volunteers outside of their usual social groups, making the Relay volunteer experience not only meaningful, but also tons of fun. 

Realizing you’re not invincible

Aside from the skills she’s developed and the people she’s met, Niki has been able to gain valuable perspective at Relay over the years.

“The young survivors who speak at the U of A are a reminder that cancer doesn’t discriminate,” says Niki. “We’re not immune to it just because we’re 18 or 22. At this age, we tend to think we’re invincible, but it’s really important to take care of your physical and mental health.”

Above all, Niki encourages young people to get involved with their local Relays, whether that’s as a volunteer or as a participant. She knows firsthand the experiences you’ll have, the people you’ll meet, and the difference you’ll make will be worth all the time and effort you put in.

We need volunteers to plan Relay For Life. Gain real-world skills while making a difference in the lives of people living with cancer. Join your Relay committee, or get on board with a youth Relay in Edmonton, Calgary or Lethbridge. As a committed leadership volunteer, you’ll be joining a community dedicated to fighting back for cancer patients, and their families, friends and caregivers. For more information, contact us at events@cancer.ab.ca.

Back to the February 2016 issue of Relay Rap